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Column: The rise of the Republican Latino isn’t real, but it could be in 2024

A crowd of people in red baseball caps with a sign that says "Cubans for Trump"
Imagine the coalition Trump could have built if he had not bashed Latinos. The Republican Party has plenty of selling points for people of color.
(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
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The hyped-up rise of the red-capped MAGA Latino, much like the “red wave,” failed to materialize in last week’s midterm elections.

Despite the national media’s obsession with portraying Latinos as drifting toward the Republicans, exit polls from last week’s elections show that Latinos remain mostly aligned with Democrats. Young Latinos, one of the nation’s fastest-growing groups, are even more reliably blue.

In Texas, where Republican Gov. Greg Abbott had vowed to win half of the Latino vote, his support among Latinos shrank two points to 40% even though he won. Abbott’s immigration fearmongering turned off Latino voters, especially along the border where a majority know better and where the Democratic candidate, Beto O’Rourke, outperformed him.

Opinion Columnist

Jean Guerrero

Jean Guerrero is the author, most recently, of “Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and the White Nationalist Agenda.”

Of course, border-hysterical Trumpists can’t fathom why. “So apparently the people whose lands are overrun and rendered dangerous by the steady migrant arrivals are just fine with it all, and want more,” one wrote. “Hit us again, hit us again, harder, harder!”

Most Latinos come from immigrant families, and half of them live in Southwest border states. They’re harder to mislead about the border than the average white voter.

Trump’s strong performance in south Texas in 2020 was probably a fluke, tied to failures of Democratic outreach during the pandemic. This year was back on trend. Even Rep. Mayra Flores of Texas, portrayed as proof of a new era of MAGA Latinas, lost her seat.

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Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, Latinos were key to electing Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman, with 68% of them siding with him thanks partly to his proudly pro-immigrant message. In Georgia, the Senate race between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker is headed to a runoff “on the backs of Latinos” who supported Warnock, UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institute founding director Sonja Diaz told me.

If the Republican Party wants to remain viable in a diversifying country, these results should be a reality check. It’s time for the GOP to have the reckoning it considered 10 years ago.

“We need to build a team that is one with the Hispanic community,” read the Republican National Committee’s autopsy report of the 2012 presidential elections, after Mitt Romney lost and performed worse with Latinos than GOP presidential candidates had in the past three elections, receiving only 27% of their vote.

Most Americans know it’s a real problem in need of real solutions. The only demographic that’s tuned out? White Democrats.

Nov. 7, 2022

The report, which Donald Trump derided and went on to disregard, argued among other things that anti-immigrant rhetoric hurt the party. Romney advocated for immigrants to “self-deport” and opposed protections for people brought here as children. “If Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies,” the GOP report read, urging the party to embrace immigration reform.

But Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, who would later join Trump’s campaign, had a different plan. They believed it wasn’t necessary to court Latinos that way at all. Instead, they predicted, Republicans could win by doubling down on immigration fearmongering and thus turning out more white voters nationwide.

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After the Mexican-bashing, border-wall-obsessed mogul won in 2016, the autopsy report looked less persuasive to many Republicans. Trump’s portion of the Latino vote was nearly as dismal as Romney’s, at 28%. He won anyway. Race-baiting could win voters.

Still, it was a mistake to think it was a sustainable strategy.

In 2020, Trump’s campaign focused more on bullying Black Lives Matter than on singling out Latinos, leaving more of them amenable to his message on COVID-19 restrictions and jobs. His portion of the Latino vote grew to 38%. Still, most Latinos rejected him, and he lost. That looks like the experience of many Republicans this year as well.

The GOP doesn’t have to keep digging its own grave.

Many Latino Americans favor small government and personal responsibility, which were major GOP talking points before white supremacy eclipsed them. One Pew Research Center study found Latinos more likely than the general public to believe in the idea that “hard work will pay off.”

Imagine how much greater Trump’s Latino support could have been if the mogul hadn’t spent four years attacking the community’s most vulnerable people. Latinos might’ve even handed him a second term.

Looking ahead to 2024, the Republican Party has a chance to finally remake itself to ensure its long-term survival. That means tuning out one-trick race baiters like Miller, who bizarrely tweeted a few days before the midterms that Latinos were “flocking to the GOP” amid “mass global illegal migration crushing Latino communities.”

He should stick to predicting white voter behavior. He couldn’t be more wrong about Latinos. While they’re not a monolith, race-baiting doesn’t attract most in this multiracial and mixed-status group. It repels them.

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It’s only a matter of time before most white Americans become immune to race-baiting, too, as they meet more people from diverse backgrounds and cease fearing them. They’ll see hatemongering for what it is: a distraction to deter them from uniting with other working people against corrupt elites — in a coalition that might even stop the displacement of people in the global south by multinational industries.

Many voters are already catching on.

While GOP midterm messaging focused on border hysteria and violent crime, voters rewarded President Biden with the best midterms of any president in two decades, even amid high inflation. Whatever Democrats did right, it’s clear what the GOP did wrong: They allowed their identity to become synonymous with white supremacy.

The Republican Party, which originated in opposition to slavery, was once the natural choice for voters who embraced some version of equal rights and dignity. It can reclaim the moral high ground, and if it does, the growing Latino electorate wouldn’t have to be a death sentence for the right.

@jeanguerre

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